Question: We got in a heated argument but after realizing that it was about nothing important, I apologized. We had sex afterwards. Next morning, I woke up and found him already up and about to leave for work. I said good morning but no response. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had an important meeting that morning. At lunch time, I texted him to ask about his meeting but no response. He came home late at bout 11.45 p.m. and headed straight to bed. I followed him and told him if something was bothering him that we should talk about it. He insisted he was tired and wanted to sleep. It’s been 3 days and nights and he hasn’t said anything to me and acts like I do not exist.
I have noticed a pattern throughout our 2.5 year relationship. He completely stops talking to me and I have to apologize even if it wasn’t my fault and beg for him to talk to me. He’s never ever once come to me first. I’m tired of always having to apologize whenever he gives me the silent treatment. I do not know why he does it or how to stop it. Advice please?
The Love Doctor’s Answer: It is not just hard when someone refuses to communicate, it’s frustrating and hurtful.
Silent treatment is passive aggressive behaviour. Passive aggressive people use silent treatment because they can get away with it. If someone physically or verbally abuses you, you can say you did this or said that — and confront them with evidence. Passive aggressive people don’t like any form of direct confrontation so they use silent treatment because it’s easy to deny that they’re “doing” anything. When you confront them, you look like a fool because you have NO evidence.
Secondly, silent treatment is a form of calculated control. As long as there is some sort of pay-off (you getting bothered/hurt, apologize and/or beg) it gives him a sense of power and feeds his ego. It could be something learned from childhood, but as adults, people do it because they can and choose to.
But even more importantly, silent treatment is psychological/emotional abuse whereby the person engaging in silent treatment is holding the other person emotional hostage. By making you feel invisible, unimportant and not valued, he has a psychological and emotional hold on you.
It’s a not a good idea to keep ignoring the behaviour. It may work temporarily but the cycle of abuse will continue. In addition, the frustration, anger and hurt that gets buried ignoring the behaviour will over time undermine the relationship.
It’s best to let him know this has to stop.
Start by calmly expressing how this makes you feel. If you get upset and start blaming, accusing or yelling, you’ve already lost control of the situation — and this will most likely lead to another silent-faceoff. As calmly as possible, let him know the impact his behavior is having on your relationship. You might be surprised that like most people who use silent treatment, he may not even realize how abusive this is.
Next, ask him how he thinks you can act/respond better so that he doesn’t feel the need to go into lockdown mode. Listen to what he says and take responsibility for where you think you might not be doing your best. Discuss how you resolve things better next time you have a disagreement.
Last but not least, let him know you are ready to leave — if you must. Then give it time for change to take place. If it continues with no signs of anything changing, make good on your word and leave. If you say you’ll leave and not follow through, threats of leaving just get incorporated into the “game” and it goes on…
Remember, you can only be controlled or abused to the extent that you are willing to allow it.
If you’re the person giving the silent treatment, I think you’ll find The Silent Treatment as a Way of Coping helpful.